By Connie Budin
On the weekend of Nov. 19-21, the Saint Mary’s University Peace and Justice Club will be traveling to Fort Benning, Ga., to participate in an annual demonstration.
Each year, leaders of P&J travel to the base called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC), formerly known as the School of the Americas. WHISC is a military base for Latino soldiers. The program started in Panama in the 1980s, and is now located in Georgia. WHISC soldiers are trained in democratic principles and peacekeeping and are given higher education. This two-year program aims to instill these individuals with qualities they can take back to their home country to help initiate good relationships and stability, said trip leader Robby McGuire.
However, some of the soldiers who complete their schooling at the base take their knowledge back to their home country to use in harmful ways, said Libby Perkins, a leader of the trip. Their home countries are often unstable, making it easy for tactics to be used to commit atrocities, killing innocent people, said Perkins.
Leaders of the trip include the advisor Brendan Dolan, senior Perkins, junior McGuire and senior Bridget Coffou. They will be traveling with 11 others from SMU, Saint John’s University and the College of Saint Benedict. This will be the 13th year that SMU has made the trip to the WHISC program. Through different organizations coming together on this weekend, there is hope for a change in what happens after men leave WHISC, said Perkins.
McGuire and Perkins, who have gone on past trips to WHISC, describe the event as “powerful.” A tour of the base will be provided and a panel of professors who teach at the base will speak. According to McGuire, on Saturday, a gathering takes place outside the entrance of the base, as well as a celebration of change. Families of those who have passed as a result of killings by WHISC graduates gather with speakers and demonstrators.
Sunday morning brings a somber feel to the program as a morning peace vigil is held. Crosses bearing the names of those who have died proceed through the crowd and are placed on the fence of the base, as each name is read in remembrance, said Coffou.
SMU’s Brother James Miller’s death was caused by a man who attended the School of the Americas, so the connection is very important, said Perkins. A prayer vigil for peace is held on campus each year through the Office of Campus Ministry and Peace and Justice, and anyone is welcome to participate.